Like many visitors who enjoy unfamiliar cities I like to make my own discoveries. Guides cannot take me where I want to go because their job is to spoil the surprise of a chance encounter. Getting lost in Milwaukee, for instance, once brought me to a Greek Orthodox church by Frank Lloyd Wright on the city’s edge. Vienna on foot turned up a well-stocked hat store with a thrilling indifference to any known fashion. You can still find botanicas and deep fried calzone in the Brooklyn that lies beyond the fashionable neighborhoods of Park Slope and Cobble Hill, but it is news to no one that it is hard to be a walker in the city these days if regional flavor is what you are after. Most downtowns have streets so dull there is no point in strolling them unless nationally franchised chains are your idea of a big adventure.
Luckily antiques shops survive and do their part to distinguish their cities and towns by reflecting the personalities of their owners and providing a local experience not reproducible elsewhere. So too do good museums, historic houses, fine art galleries, and auction houses. Our first annual guide to all these places will, of course, be a boon to collectors and dealers, but it should also double as an introduction to what is unique in any part of North America. We are more various than we realize so I regard this guide, organized by state and city, as a celebration of the people and places that have, among other admirable traits, resisted homogenization, commercial fads, and frivolous commodities.
As a child I spent a certain amount of time in a Saint Louis antiques emporium called Zern’s, while my grandmother, aunt, and mother examined its dusty wares. That city is still pleasantly associated in my mind with the stale coppery scent of those dark rooms. More recently I have spent pleasurable hours in Seattle and San Francisco, London and Providence in more refined but equally memorable galleries, not to mention museums and one or two historic houses, each delivering a powerful sense memory. A guide like this one cannot spoil the surprise of these kinds of encounters for you because it can never anticipate what you will find there. Its job is to tell you where to go to be surprised.